Friday, July 31, 2009

David Larsen’s Names of the Lion

A Wall, Philadelphia

Out of al Husayn ibn Ahmad ibn Khalawayh’s Names of the Lion, translated with notes and an introduction by David Larsen (Atticus / Finch, 2009):
Names of the Lion ends with a quotation from the poem which (as related in the Introduction) moved the Caliph to twit Abu Zubayd on his obsession with lions. . . . Its opening is typical of the classical Arabic qasida, where the poet’s encounter with a long-abandoned campsite inaugurates a chain of heroic memories and declarations. What follows, however, is less conventional: in place of military victories and erotic dalliances, it commemorates the humiliation and disintegration of a tribal group (called bani ’l-khalat—“sons of maternal aunts” in line 21), and their poor decision to venture into lion-infested territory. As noted by Ibn Qutayba . . . the lengthy description of the lion at the poem’s center is atypical of pre-Islamic poetics. Zoological detail is itself no novelty, but the level achieved in lines 10-20 is extraordinary, testifying to direct and intimate observation of the lion’s behavior. Unconventional too is the poem’s conclusion, which is told from the perspective of the tribe’s camels. It ends abruptly, in a future-tense verb (satuttaba) indicating the camels’ knowledge that their steps “will be followed” by a deadly predator. . . .:
To a people far gone in their remoteness: who will bring word
      of a heart crazed with longing for my people?
The remains of their encampment proclaim their distance from me. Even so
      my love and warcraft are pledged to them, when their enemies show themselves.
With the edge of a polished spear, at the head of a company
      —no fadelings bent with age, they—
And I, a brother of the company, quick to sense danger
      and scorn its consequences, no matter how mighty the oppressor,
Bearing often the burdens of those I love,
      I give my utmost effort, and lay at their disposal all I know.
Meanwhile, those whose breasts I freighted with resentment
      have had a full trough of me.
They thought they had me in their grasp
      and then, discovering my escape, fell into despair.
What they set in motion turned out contrary to their expectations,
      and their allies fled in all directions and could not be gathered.
Some of them you would think affrighted
      by Dhu Zawaid whose wrists bow inward,
Who is Dirghama of the gaping jaws and Dhu Libdin of the thicket.
      His name is like the hood of a burnoose
Long and draping, like a nobleman’s for all that
      he possesses nothing but his pride, who are his mate and cubs.
He hides in a refuge of entangled jujubes
      but is limitlessly far from timid about showing himself.
The better to defend his kill, he leaves it in a narrow declivity.
      Woe to anyone caught intruding
On a father of two who are Shatim, born of the lioness al-Hassa,
      whose teats stand out from her belly like white cakes.
In her devotion to their rearing, she rejects their sire: lioness and lion
      are driven apart, lest she malnourish her offspring by conceiving again.
So they get to drink their fill of her, as she feasts them both
      on the milk which never goes bad or ceases flowing.
Two lions who take after their elder and are called al-Ward,
      instinct with hunger for what belongs to others, and taking it.
When they cut their teeth, the male brings them meat
      on joints torn from the people’s horses with regularity.
Over the breastbone his coat is patched
      and sticky from frequent washings in blood.
The coat on his hind end is threadbare, like that of a man in need,
      but in his head and shoulders he is like a man in armor.
Is the clan of aunties abandoned by its bravery?
      (No prey is barred the lion. It is he who does the barring.)
They are women lacking a capable chieftain,
      and among their possessions you would find nothing to envy.
What is lowlier than they is lowly indeed. They have
      the dejected smell of a bone with no meat on it. . . .
That comes at the end of Larsen’s Names of the Lion, preceding it is a terrific introduction to Ibn Khalawayh, essentially a lexicographer and student of classical Arabic poetry in the city of Aleppo—he compiled, too, two lost treatises, a Names of the Serpent and a Names of the Hours of the Night, along with the extant Book of Trees and a monograph call’d On the Names of the Wind—and to the source of Names of the Lion.Names of the Lion comes from a long serial work called Kitab Laysa fi kalam al-arab (“The Book of ‘Not in the Speech of the Arabs’”), which has never been printed in its entirety. The title comes from the formula oprning each short chapter: “There is in the speech of the Arabs no . . .” followed by various exceptions to the stated rule.” Larsen offers, too, a short guide to the astonishingly rich difficulties of the Arabic language—a system of lexical roots and “augmentative letters” (one learns that “These letters number ten, and can be arranged to spell the mnemonic sentence Al-yawm tansahu, meaning “Today you forget it.”) Too, there is a short disquisition on the historical distribution and range of lions (the smaller and “more gregarious” Asiatic lion—not the commoner African—mark’d by “a darker mane and an extra fold of skin that runs the length of its abdomen”) in the region. All that plenitude preceding the list, with copious notes, of some four hundred or so names. Though Larsen’s clearly at home in the scholarly trappings, he admits: “My task here was carried on in the procedural spirit of recent avant-garde tradition, not linguistic scholarship.” And, while picturing Ibn Khalawayh mourning the loss of a student, the lion-nicknamed “poet-insurrectionist” Abu Firas who met a violent death, Larsen wonders aloud if the lexicographer mark’d the passing by “writing down every other name for the lion (“the direst, most beautiful nuisance imaginable”) he could think of, one mournful Aleppine night?” And answers:
Probably not. If Names of the Lion reads like an elegiac text, it is because we of the twenty-first century mourn the lion’s lost mastery over the earth. We are also attuned to the list as a poetic form in a way that readers and writers of other periods were not. Names of the Lion may be a masterpiece of philological literature, but Ibn Khalawayh has no conception of it as a work of poetry.
Select items out of the list (with notes):
al-Muzafur       “Whose Coat Is Yellow, Stained With Red”

(“al-Muzafur is said for a lion with blood on it . The name comes ouf aof zafaran, an Arabic word for saffron.”)

al-Qasqas       “Whose Food Has Bones In It”

(“As with al-Damdam, the reduplicated form of al-Qasqas indicated an action performed repeatedly and with gusto. The verb qassa means ‘to strip a bone of meat and suck its marrow.’”)

al-Ifrit       “The Demon,” also al-Ifirriyy, al-Ifras, al-Ifriya, al-Nifriya and al-Nifrit

(Regarding the variants: in a lengthy note Larsen points to “a principle of Arabic morphology called al-itba, which is the ‘following’ of one word by an assonant double of itself.” “Al-itba is no mere poetic flourish but a generative principle of the language: what begins as a nonsense rhyme can acquire a dedicated mening of its own.” He reports how “one of the grammarians asked an Arab of the desert about al-itba.” The reply: “It is a thing by which our speech is kept firm.”)

al-Harhar       “Whose Gut Sloshes [When he Walks]”

(“The noise made by al-Harhar is called al-harhara, meaning “laughter for no reason” as well as the bleating of the sheep and the war-cry of the Indian. It also names the sound made by a quantity of fluid in a bag.”)

al-Aqur       “The Hamstringer”

(“al-Aqur is the predator that attacks the hind legs of its prey. Wine is called al-uqar because it ‘hamstrings’ the intellect.”)

al-Miqdam       “Who Seeks the Forefront [of Battle]”

(“al-Miqdam is similar in meaning to al-Dilhath (q.v.), and could without violence be translated as ‘The Avant-Garde.’”)

[Oddly enough, in the presumptuous and commerce-orient’d poetics of the avant-garde norteamericano of the twentieth / twenty-first century, one notes a rather depressing tendency to avoid battle with untoward, smug, and relentless silences.]

al-Rias       “Who Destroys Capital” (?)

(“Al-Rias is formed on al-ras, the Arabic word for head. The “head” of an affair is its beginning, and so al-Rias might be defined as *‘The Incipient.’ (The rias of a sword is its ‘cutting edge.’) As with Latin capitum and English head, however, al-ras is additionally said for ‘a unit of livestock’ [ras mal]. Correspondingly, the Arabic word for ‘capitalism’ is al-rasmaliyya.”)

al-Awf       “The Night Stalker”

(“A lot of different things are called Awf, including a tribe, a mountain, and a species of aromatic bush. Root verb afa is used for the vulture’s circling above a carcass, and lion and wolf are named al-Awf for their nighttime prowling. The rooster of the barnyard is called al-awf. A man’s penis is his awf. In pre-Islamic antiquity there was a god call Awf, as attested by the theophoric name Abd Awf [‘Worshiper of Awf’].”)
If twentieth century poetry norteamericano is overwhelmingly mark’d by Ezra Pound’s rehashings of works of the classic Chinese anthologies, oughtn’t the twenty-first century be that of the “turn to” Arabic?

[I ought to note that, against a half-ass’d (incomplete) attempt to replicate the Arabic diacritical marks, I decided to leave all out, anticipating no violence to sense or “anglicized” pronunciation for the casual (meaning ignorant, like myself) reader.]

David Larsen


Sleepy, with a tenuous
sense of the unearthly
way the dead champion
the living by butting
in now and again,
anticipatory and skew’d, niggardly
with news. There is
no news. The neighbor’s
unhinged screen door claps
its odd trochee’d clap,
rebound with secondary, the
dog’s slavering hygiene routine
(flop’d under the chair)
diminishes to sighing. Man’s
‘natural ferocity and hoggishness’
(Whitman) is made explicit
by random noises innumerable
unsustain’d and constantly updating:
haul ass of I-
94 truckers, the what-
of a helicopter,
the stray suck of
a siren, whoop-whoop-ing
up against the sneer
and rev of questionable
and sudden police manoeuvres,
the honk’d horns of
the gainsaying rude brute,
a rubbish of talk
littering the stolid interstices.
A fluctuant decibel wash,
igitur ungrant’d. The dead
in a ragged line
noiselessly stamping quit-claims.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oh please!



A whole rigorous blank
cosmos in the appoint’d
fixity of the perusal—
knocking a couple of
apples off the apple
tree by lobbing up
one off the ground.
Poetry is only poetry
if it out-distances
the meagre procedures of
its initial limit’d reach,
reaches launch’d and unforeseen
a fierce and various
propounding, unponder’d, suspect, excess.
A yellow Ticonderoga pencil
that Vladimir Nabokov presumably
sharpen’d with a jack-
knife is stuck nub-
upright in a foil-
cover’d pot propping up
a pinwheel-leaf’d nasturtium
beginning to obtrude. Orange-
flower’d and caper-studded,
its riotous haw harlotry
flops into an intangible
ween and perplex, flaunting
fault discharged as fruit.

I rather like Thomas Bernhard’s (brusque, agitated, dismissive) reply in a 1986 interview to a (rather innocuous) query about Bernhard’s early poetry:
You started out writing poetry.

Oh please!

What does that mean to you today?

Nothing whatsoever, I don’t think about it at all. You don’t think back over every step you’ve ever taken, do you? You’d have to set billions, hundreds of billions of thoughts in motion. Like with walking and running. You can’t be constantly retracing where you’ve been in your mind, or you’ll never get anywhere interesting.
(Some of that “retracing,” one sees it, amongst the voluble aging ones, no? Nigh constant youth’d glory rehash: signs of a life, damaged or not. “We are all of us aging.”) Browsing the shelves, pull’d down Bernhard’s The Voice Imitator (University of Chicago Press, 1997). Consisting of some hundred or so short pieces, some extremely short. Here’s “The Milkmaid”:
Last week we witnessed the spectacle of five cows running, one after the other, into the express train in which we had to return to Vienna and of seeing them cut all to pieces. After the track had been cleared by the train crew and even by the driver, who came along with a pick-ax, the train proceeded after a delay of about forty minutes. Looking out of the window I caught sight of the milkmaid as she ran screaming towards a farmyard in the dusk.
What I find stunning: how like Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines the short Bernhard pieces sound. Here’s “Too Much”:
A paterfamilias who had for decades been praised and beloved for a so-called extraordinary sense of family and who one Saturday after noon, admitted in especially humid weather, murdered four of his six children, defended himself in court by saying that all of a sudden the children were too much for him.
And, “Hotel Waldhaus”:
We had no luck with the weather and the guests at our table were repellent in every respect. They even spoiled Nietzsche for us. Even after they had had a fatal car accident and had been laid out in the church in Sils, we still hated them.
And, “Imagination”:
Near the Coptic quarter in Cairo we noticed whole rows of streets in whose four- and five-story houses thousands of chickens and goats and even pigs are kept. We tried to imagine what the noise would be like if these houses were to burn down.
Notes. The Kafkaesque intermingling with the Fénéonesque, the unlikeable “we” of the narrator (a newspaper convention, a “kingly” convention), urge to read (and reread) John Hawkes (somebody’s stray remark regarding Skipper, the narrator of Second Skin—“Nobody wants to kiss you, Skipper”—how difficult it is to like a story relay’d by a repugnant storyteller . . .)

Thomas Bernhard, 1931-1939

Of Note

Out of Thomas Meyer’s heart-rending Kintsugi (Punch Press, 2009):
All my life I’ve been waiting for something
and now here it is. Unapparent

like a wood in Germany. Not fog but a mist
for a moment obscures you.

An empty pair of shoes out in the middle of the room.
The thing about waiting. Take away anticipation
and that’s all there is. Those words from Latin
“I” tries to avoid. A lesson I can’t or it won’t be

Talk with us. We too fear both fire and time
certain they are the same. What is left
when they are done? What is left to do
but move to Spain and live there life’s cruelty.

Walk into a room.
Not know where I am.
Once it was Love
had me so distracted.
Now it’s Death.

It won’t be hours until this happens
what took seconds to transpire.

Moments in each other’s arms
when time is a toy. Something simple.

Winds up. Runs down. Clatters.

The story itself isn’t remarkable
though not all that believable:

a young man, apparently the gardener,
who tells the women to do something

they don’t and then they ran away afraid.

It hardly matters. I’ve probably already heard it.
Or never will. Anticipation is the—what to call it?
Not the “answer,” really.

There is a music
I’ve been waiting for
I want to say
all my life.

. . .

For me the hardest and last things to do
have been the least.

To pick up your glasses and know
you will never look through them again.

La vita nuova. Where does it end.
Or begin when. The rain and wind were
only mice in the ceiling. Mice

in the silence. Lips parted, slight arch
of tongue. A bit of air.

There was a book there before I nodded off
my hand can’t find nor is there enough light
to see just where I am. A place I know I knew
yet can’t quite place right now.

The curtain lifts and the dead enter
while the living exit. This is what the world is.
A hand held out amidst noise and dust
whose touch is a wide-eyed lifetime.

No end to what is, and not water
or whatever else we know as stuff

all that comes from this. While everything
so to speak that comes also goes away

is gone

Damp sheep pulled out from under a hip.
Moon light, so much, not full, a quarter.
My hand in front of my face. Where to go?

In the room the sound of water, of breath.

In this dream you are you twenty years ago
getting up to pay for lunch

and I am me now thinking “My god,
what have I done?”

you will die in a day or two.
The clipped cadences and dislocations of grief. Which are those of a feral attention, an attunement to one’s own wild shunts and haulings. Kintsugi (the word refers—how defiantly apt it is, and how lovely—to the “Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold laced lacquer to illuminate the breakage”) is Meyer’s elegy for Jonathan Williams, “written,” Robert Kelly writes in that accompanying note, “Speaking to Thomas Meyer’s Kintsugi,” “in and through the very death it mourned.” And: “His love . . . is so worn and deep and thorough that it does not need to speak its usual endearments.” Stunning letterpress’d covers, sewn in wraps, with artwork by Erica Van Horn.

Thomas Meyer
(Photograph by Reuben Cox)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Frederick Farryl Goodwin’s Virgil’s Cow

Lock and Smudge

Out of Frederick Farryl Goodwin’s breath-stopping Virgil’s Cow (Miami University Press, 2009):
James Brown


As a hat and an adult duiaper while he drivshis ark to the king
dome of his peers he swears his years are melting away in america’s
melting pot whose strs and stripes are smeared with the other warpaints
ion his cherokee cheekbones he is a black hassid in hiding from his village
elders who cheriub his butts with anointing oiuls and pigmeants from the chief
mospuito by the creek with no name burning boiling oil.

“Typos” / variant spellings / simultaneities (trying to write two words directly to avoid the way reading effects a hierarchic seriality, an “order” of time and event). See pigments, pigmeat, mean, meat colliding in the word “pigmeants.” Poem as a canister throwing off uncontainable sparks. I note, too, in Virgil’s Cow a highly refined typography—one hardly reproduced here. “James Brown” (the title is italicized, the hair-lines mark’d) is print’d in a smaller near-agate type. Where a serif’d type dominates, one poem—“IM: The Robot Geisha”—appears in typewriter-style Courier. A number of pieces hug the right margin. A few untitled works accompany an initial Hebrew version: no way of determining if one is “original,” the other “translation.” Occasional symbol gimcrackry intercedes (see, in “Here Lies Thought,” “summoning ouir potentioner’s phalanx / . . . . . .       . . . . . of n=oble mathematicians . . ., / muttering our calculus under starry skies.”) The effect is a continual upsetting of the norms of intention (Goodwin as Basquiat: how interpret an idiosyncratic code? Marks of “personal” meaning, or trace “societal” detritus, its jisms and negligible-jams. Or marks of a toss-off style-“commitment”: Ça m’est egal, you fix it up if it bothers you.”) Here’s another:

“Closing time,” sings the Mariachi band. Three Spanish
royals at the bar w/ earmuffs & beards. Crying in their negra
modelos @ La Tijuana on Broadway.

        It’s cold at midnight by Fitzgerald Shipyard @ the end of
        Winnisimmet. Las putas stroll by the old water hole and propane
        tanks. The D.P.W mounds its

                arsenic-laced pillar of white salt. The freighters steam under
                the Tobin & Winnisimmet like thugs surrounded by a
                mob of red tugs. The produce section

                        rots in a refrigerator w/ the strippers @ St. Arthur’s Court.
                        “The wolf of winter will soon be at our throats,” one
                        besotted otter throws out

                                while Richard Brautigan puts down his cerveza
                                and walks out the door /,\ trolling
                                in the gutter for rainbow trout <++++
What is that fishlike appendage at the end? The piece is largely a kind of mean streets depicting à la August Kleinzahler, say, or any number of talent’d depicters. The difference: something like “one / besotted otter throws out”—that willingness to allow sound’s cartoonry its place. It jams the transmission, betrays the Oz behind the material curtain, turns, momentarily, the reader into that “arsenic-laced” pillar of salt. (The few weaker pieces in the book fail exactly in proportion to a refusal of such jamming, the “merely” scenic, or scenic with a gooey dollop of irony’s gravy—“McLean Hospital” is one.) Here’s “Cannibal Rector”:

I am sitting on a barge going downstream to Robert Mitchum’s
house. Gamelan thimble cymbals adore my fleas.       All of

Hollywoodisthere. Little John and his den of wickedthieves
looting modern rome. Romeo ,adoring your lanternlike breasts.

You are the honey in the lion. I am the nut
w/ a crush.
      A mouse runs

▪ ▪ ▪      

across the keys. The screen crackles for an instant
in the living room. i am d us ting for finger prints.

I keep thinking of various “misfits” (to put one possible name to a long-standing honorable tradition of those who refuse to be “bunch’d,” singularities, cranks, delinquents, saints, &c.) that Frederick Farryl Goodwin’s work may (or may not) show kinship with. Carl Martin, Alfred Starr Hamilton, John Wieners, Jack Spicer, Amelia Rosselli, Laure (pseudonym of Colette Peignot), maybe Martin Corless-Smith, maybe Michael Haslam, maybe Jeff Clark (he design’d Virgil’s Cow,—largish format and trademark bleeds and blacks—hence an untoward preternatural presence). I am sure there are others. Some astoundingly different register to the way of seeing. Hints of that here: “the honey in the lion.” Goodwin is capable, too, of nearly unbearable restraint, a methodical discernment of shivery particulars:
Double Zero Land

There is a grand river running       through the disposition
of my faith. For I have seen rich men die at their desks,

of heart attacks, and carry on like ghosts through generations.
It is as it should be. Quiet.       In the stalls. The immortals tread

      ▪ ▪ ▪

elsewhere. It is their right. I count loose change in words
Drink the beverage of the sky.       Carry on with a farmer’s

work. Mucking out the I.
New likely candidate for defining what all writing is, or ought be: “mucking out the I.” The piece previous to “Double Zero Land”—one call’d “Anchors”—begins: “I was drinking the sky through a straw. Blue sky / and the din of Montana.” That Spicerean recycling of image. The temptation is to continue saying, rather dumbfoundedly, “Look! Look here!” Three one-line poems (checking the listing of contents, there’s a sense of mergers and indistinct (recklessness with boundaries) to the book; several untitled pieces and the typographic burps add to it):
Heavy Metal

The roots going below ground to Beowulf. Green harvested from beets. The willow out back dies a slow death. Branch by branch.

Flying Saucer

Vitek Spacek pounding on the door with Polish day glow hair. Which concealed a thing still emerging from ice.

The Sirens

You know it’s not you they’re coming for this time. I am moved to comment on the killing of a man.
Rather like some of Frank O’Hara’s late (mostly) one-line excursuses in “The Sentimental Units,” or “Biographia Letteraria,” or “The Anthology of Lonely Days.” (Or John Ashbery’s “37 Haiku”?) What is the relationship between the items? Is there a whole “potentioner’s phalanx”—a tradition—of one-liners (titled or not) chain’d one to another, sparking off new chains? What difference did it make in reading Virgil’s Cow that I took the epigraph’d lines—“Certain she heard the words—a human voice; / she saw a bird. And then she counted nine, / all talking crows . . .”—to read “talking cows” and to come out of Virgil, not Ovid. Belated death of a literalist. Read it.

Cover of Virgil’s Cow, design’d by Jeff Clark, with Tatsuya’s “Bestia Animus in Effectus,” 1988


Big Mecca flop-
down, just my
fucking luck. Or
some fundamentally post-
rational evangelical meemies
with a saw-
horse prop’d table
of “literature.” Inconsequential
words go up,
dispers’d by the
piercingly blue gramophonic
sky. Call it
prayer, call it
a tremulous rhythm
against “lamentable rheum.”
I am of
the hack-saw
and pliers bunch
that sees unfetter’d
the doctoring up
of the supra-
seemly celestial roar
in stock mock-
courtly religious hoo-
hah, its class-
freight’d masques, its
lyre and parasol
units. Thin-gruel’d
ritual shit. Shall
we gather at
the water trough,
hoof-pock the
muck and plunge
mangle-horn’d in,
balling like cows?
Consensual solitary grunts
and attainments, hick
victuals, clean meanness:
a coil of
green garden hose
spout’d up at
the unextinguishable sun.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Varia lectio

Photograph of a Photograph


Enough rascality: the bluff is
call’d—specimen and prospect—I
ditch the research, gauge of
no desire. “John Latta is
sipping a can of beer
in the light diabolique of
a snuff’d-out purity.” “John Latta
is reading Le livre des
” A dungaree’d toothless
Joe says he is trying
to put together three dollars
for a hamburger. I like
the winning particularity of that
statement. “John Latta isn’t one
to grab insidious kinds of
unembellish’d attention-gettting for block-
heads devices in a ragged
consumerist dash for a blockbuster
substitute.” Or to so poorly
sort the Bollywood refs, non-
cronyist shutterbug miasmas, the way
embedded’s come to mean bought
Net gain: zero. “John
Latta, is that pert way
you do up the disastrous
turgidity a kind of combable
soap?” That shark-fin saw
blade running its teeth up
to sunder the amygdaloidal skull,
is that the Mohawk you
so savagely desire? “‘Nervousness because
love, and appetite, its throttle’
is the beginning of something
John Latta did not finish.”

Finish’d up José Manuel Prieto’s Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire. One stylistic beaut: the narrator’s obsession with letters, to the point of seeming to exist in a world where one’s emotional limits are mark’d solely by literary-historical epistolary exchanges:
At that moment, I felt utter dismay and also an ulterior elation, because “More than anything in the world I fear honest women and high-flown sentiments. Hooray for grisettes, fast and easy . . . ,” as Pushkin says in an 1827 letter to Zinaida Bukovski (his lover, we have to assume).
      Here in Livadia I came across a description, in a letter, of a fear I might have felt, but didn’t. It was a letter from James Joyce to Nora, his wife, and he really went to extremes (the poor man). A letter dated September 2, 1909, and postmarked 44 Fontenoy Street, Dublin: “I have enormous belief in the power of a simple honorable soul. You are that, are you not, Nora?” The pathetic tone, the tremendous desire to believe the opposite. Nora Barnacle? My God! The whole world knows. Someone should have warned the unhappy writer. Less madness, less experimentation in Ulysses, I’m sure.
The foible allows Prieto to drop in exemplary and pertinent mots willy-nilly, constructing a kind of musculature of words against which the story of the narrator’s obsession with V., a Russian woman, a big-money prostitute trapped in Istanbul (he helps her escape) is played. The letters (house of cards) even begin to comment on other letters. Here, the letters of one Ghislain de Busbecq provide a story of Roxana (or Roxelana, or “La Rossa”), a slave who managed to attract the attentions of Suleiman (“the Magnificent, the emperor of the Turks”) to the point that he marry’d her—whence she turn’d against him and organized a revolt. Prieto:
Imagine how Suleiman felt about this woman, as completely bewildered as de Maupassant was by Maria Barkishev when she first wrote to him. Barkishev, a young genius—or wunderkind—initiated the correspondence in Paris in 1882, sending him a letter without revealing her identity, without telling him that she was Russian—and a woman. Her letter confounded the writer; his astonishment at her complex design must have been like Suleiman the Magnificent’s at Roxana, and mine at V. In a single letter, and what’s more in a single paragraph, the young woman had bombarded him with names: “. . . you gave me quite a start, madame. Without any warning, you launched a volley of quotes from G. Sand, Flaubert, Balzac, Montesquieu, the Jew Baahron, Job, Spitzbube, the Berlin scholar, and Moses.” De Maupassant guesses the “mystery lady” must be “a sixth-grade teacher at Louis-le-Grand.”
So one reads snatches of letters by Marfa Brown (another prostitute) to Dostoyevsky, or by one Alciphrón, “third century A.D. . . . about whom nothing is known but his name” (he writes, with “Dionysian frankness,” of “a competition between Thryallis and Myrrhina, to see which had the softer, the better ass”), or by Nadezhda von Meck, “the rich widow of a mining engineer” who wrote regularly to Tchaikovsky (and bestow’d him with an annual pension) “with only one condition, that they never meet.” (Tchaikovsky, learning of von Meck’s presence in Florence, panick’d, writing to a brother: “I constantly have the feeling that she wants to see me. Every day I think I see her walk by my villa, stopping to try and catch sight of me.”) Or by Karen Blixen (“Regarding lions . . . I can only say that I do not believe that any normal person can live in lion country without trying to shoot them.”) The world’s a wadded tissue of citational debris.

Anonymously paint’d tableau of Aleksandra Lisowska (c. 1510-1558), wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, also variously known as Roxelana, Roxolana, Roxelane, Rossa, Ruziac, or by her Turkish name of Khourrem (or Hürrem or Karima), meaning the “laughing one.”

Of Note

Out of Jeff Hilson’s excellent and jittery-quick Bird bird (Landfill, 2009):
Gallinago gallinago (snipe)

Why I am not a snipe. I went to scotland, needles too, as it was so so cold. Say “falls.” Dear & I hope it was to scotland I went to not & to cornwall as they are quite a few apart. Bill hooked sorry about that & left. Bill turned down & left. Bill shorter. Bill somewhat shorter. A much shorter bill. Short straight bill turned up & left, jangling of a bunch of keys, bell-like, which was then all over, brief. And I can’t stop song, no, no, songs we can’t agree who even scored. No white no white (which she said she did, right through) which makes this the last story. Dear as well, when I go down sorry. And his little wife climbed, beautiful about these men.
Coturnix coturnix (quail)

A man and a quail descend to farmland. Forget cellophane this mister wants to see some quail on quail. For which he wears my nellie boots. His cock-petite & on my lips it was quick quick & I obey to “lift up your cups” on the way in. His wild end was snow on snow & robins cutting in. I have no escape pattern. Some ornithologists moving away. Robins for most people. Ovens you need. At the hay nets the prose is clumsy. Some órnithólogísts they móve awáy. Bare ruined choirs etc. Kitten heels. Dolly pockets. Knee-high flats.
Corvus corone corone (carrion crow)

Who would collaborate with me now jim dine’s dead, the artist jim dine. Oh my honey he probably died though and was gone away like the heavy crow in the morning or, because of comparison, like the rain coming up. After this I ran out of the empty house of folklore. I heart this house. I think it’s raining, raining in my heart house. Didn’t it on the hydropiper and the hydropiper’s son? They’re realer than the heavy crow whose tiny bushy throat smells. A heavy crow can have a tiny throat. I want jim dine dead or alive. Marries nancy minto & they move to london in 1966 or 1967 it depends who you believe.
Something kind of wonderful idiot savantishness (perfect unseen logicks) that moves one along. Out of the cheesy-sloganeering irony of “I heart this house” ones ascends (with a snicker, though heartfelt, affectionate) to the almost impossibly cheesier quoting of the Buddy Holly ballad (written by the husband and wife songwriting duo, Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant and Matilda Genevieve Scaduto “Felice” Bryant) “Raining in My Heart.” Bird bird’s devotedness to tracking (detachedly, breezily, without assigning “significance”—see: “or, because of comparison”) whatever flits through the brain-thickets (mark’d, natch, by high preponderance of indefinable—meaning, too, illimited—sex).

Impeccable straightforward design by Jeremy Noel-Tod of Landfill Press. Check the epigraphs. One out of “Introduction to Heinzel, Fitter & Parslow eds, The Birds of Britain and Europe (“The scientific name of an animal is part of the international language of science enabling naturalists in one country to know what those in another are talking about”), one out of Philip Whalen’s “Plus Ça Change . . .” (“I’ll ignore those preposterous feathers”), one out of Krazy Kat (“I dun’t savvy—spikk plaina, plizz”)—all pointing to Hilson’s determined ambivalence (negative capability as varia lectio) and humor.

Jeff Hilson
(Drawing by Bethany)

Monday, July 27, 2009


Photograph of a Photograph


Undetach’d, the morning invades piece-
meal, Stimmenimitatorlich, through the white
noise of night. It obtrudes
its exemplary barbarity in ditty,
snatch hummables, it samples its
wrought-up fervency in endless
insolvent répétez, répétez encores of
strut. It yanks night out
for a private duel. At
Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, it
pummels monks up out of
sleep, in Arndorf near Sankt
Veit an der Glan, it
masquerades as a whole box
of stolen reliquaries clutch’d in
the arms of a dying priest.
Its is an act of
coming to whilst arriving at,
it makes of its receipt
a temporary stay, a hemmed-
up moment unhamper’d by rhythmic
palsy’d indifference and its cohort,
the universe, and then it
seizes up and moves along.

Piling up weekend mileage, bombing down through the Southern Tier (New York) again. Leaving hardly a thing beyond road listlessness (that state arriving “behind” the tumult of sheer input: weather’d signage and talon-dragging hawks swooping low, the endless green pelt of the hills, the gravel slips of rivers running along the road . . .) Finish’d (in a dribble) Aleksandar Hemon’s book of (loosely) connect’d stories, Love and Obstacles. Wrote “A Year” CCVI in a motel in Horseheads, New York. Ruminated idly on the northerly geographical reaches of the breakfast-offering of (rather gummy) gravy and biscuits, its “spread.” Hemon’s got a narrator in the final story (“The Noble Truths of Suffering”) who asks one “Richard Macalister” (“a Pulitzer Prize winner and acclaimed author”) whom he meets in Sarajevo (“Could he see how beautiful it had been before it became this cesspool of insignificant, drizzly suffering?”): “Did he ever have the feeling that this was all shit—this: America, humankind, writing, everything?” Macalister talks “angerlessly” and the narrator—they’ve met at an evening reception at “His American Excellency” the ambassador’s (“stout, grim, Republican, with a small, puckered-asshole mouth”) house (“famously built high up in the hills by a Bosnian tycoon”) and proceed’d out into the city, the narrator getting drunker and drunker, Macalister not:
Macalister had been in Vietnam, he had experienced nothing ennobling there. He was not Buddhist, he was “Buddhistish.” And the Pulitzer had made him vainglorious—“vainglorious” was the word he used—and now he was ashamed of it all a bit; any serious writer ought to be humiliated and humbled by fame. When he was young, like me, he said, he used to think that all the great writers knew something he didn’t. He thought that if he read their books they would teach him something, make him better; he thought that he would acquire what they had: the wisdom, the truth, the wholeness, the real shit. He was burning to write, he wanted to break through to that fancy knowledge, he was hungry for it. But now he knew that that hunger was vainglorious; now he knew that writers knew nothing, really; most of them were just faking it. He knew nothing. There was nothing to know, nothing on the other side. There was no walker, no path, just walking. This was it, whoever you were, wherever you were, whatever it was, and you had to make peace with that fact.
      “This?” I asked. “What is ‘this’?”
      “This. Everything.”
      “Fuck me.”
      He talked more and more as I sank into oblivion, slurring the few words of concession and agreement and fascination I could utter. I would not remember most of the things he talked about, but as drunk as I was, it was clear to me that his sudden, sincere verbosity was due to his sense that our encounter—our writerly one-night stand—was a fleeting one.
Upshot is that Macalister eventually uses—nigh-verbatim—a later encounter with the narrator and family in a novel. I find myself less took by that than by the overflowing spring of vainglory, that misshapen imp we all know, the one that goes so little identify’d, and less admit’d. Fuck me.

Aleksandar Hemon

Of Note

Out of Jono Tosch’s terrific chapbook Under Sea (The Chuckwagon, 2009):
Samuel Beckett, Martin Buber

Samuel Beckett disapproved of months.
“Little bastards,” he wrote, “there are too many
of them. What hog made this world?”

Scholars wonder what he meant by that.
Martin Buber offers the following explanation:
“Beckett was a sullen man, and he dressed badly.

You could often see him about town, wearing
as many as three cheap suits simultaneously.
He had incredibly horrible taste in suits.”

In a long letter to himself, Beckett wrote, “You
have become a cloths horse, Samuel.
How many suits does one author need? Fifty?

One hundred? You still disapprove of months.
It is like passing salt to somebody next to you
Who has already finished his soup.”

Scholars are not sure what he meant by that.
But Martin Buber offers this: “Beckett hated
many things; he never celebrated the New Year.”
A collection of a historical fabulist, full of seemingly involuntary (“natural”) tidbits out of the letters of (mostly) writers, and (mostly) funny (out of “Turgenev”: “‘First thing in the morning,’ he wrote, / ‘Before I even peep at my penis, / I slip out to the boat house and rip a bong. / My novel is deep and wonderful now.’”) So John Crowe Ransom “loved Comet scouring powder”; so Leo Tolstoy admits—“I bought this new LeBaron; I wish I hadn’t.” Recalls some of James Tate’s early deadpan, maybe Russell Edson (though without the constant gratuitous agon). The piece that I remember’d immediately—something of a tonal likeness—Tom Clark’s “Baseball”:

One day when I was studying with Stan Musial, he pointed out that one end of the bat was fatter than the other. “This end is more important than the other,” he said. After twenty years I learned to hold the bat by the handle. Recently, when Willie Mays returned from Europe, he brought me a German bat of modern make. It can hit any kind of ball. Pressure on the shaft at the end near the handle frees the weight so that it can be retracted or extended in any direction. A pitcher came with the bat. The pitcher offers not one but several possibilities. That is, one may choose the kind of pitch one wants. There is no ball.

The Chuckwagon (boost it high in the pantheon of press monickers, I love the name!) is largely the doing of Sean Casey, out of Southampton, Massachusetts. Other chapbooks by Michael Casey, Carson Cistulli, Brad Flis, Loren Goodman, Ben Hersey, Julie Lechevsky, Gerald Locklin, and Isabelle Pelissier, among others.

Jono Tosch, “Self-Portrait”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Noble, Conspicuous and Free”

A Shower


To contend, and spent, relent,
turning to the duplicitous ornery
sea, its surge and push
‘like a hand omnipotent’ (Melville).
Evidence of the unrestrainedly pre-
logical might of the earth,
its arbitrary stimuli, its monstrous
incessancy, its unreserved intransigence, its
fits. ‘Art, in reply, seeks
only to close its eyes,
grit its teeth.’ Hence, plenary
thrash concomitance, the sun-bender,
the submerged rapturist, the pussy-
licker, the drunk—that un-
rank’d ‘hath not th’advantage’ un-
mooring to avert one’s reason-
stopper’d ‘goût pour la terre
et les pierres.’
I lie
between slabs of shale like
a trilobite dying beneath Silurian
sediments, a stash’d unfit behoover,
a bury’d remedial cache. At
the hub of the Canadian
Shield, I join the trilobite,
affiinity’s strange unsmudgeable, a jawing,
joint’d mess, The Joiner’s mess.

Perfectly chaotic morning: rain, bicycle, blood work, errands. A book left splay’d out, anneal’d by humidity to the floor like a butterfly. Solace in a casual reading of Dionysius of Halicarnasssus’s rogering around with the austere (and other) forms of “literary compostion”:
      I hold the view that there are very many distinct forms of composition . . . I also think that, as in personal appearance, so in literary composition, an individual character is associated with each of us; and I find not a bad illustration in painting. As in that art all painters mix their pigments together in a variety of shades, in the same way in poetry and all other literature, though we all use the same words, we do not put them together in the same manner. I believe, however, there are only the following three generically different kinds of composition . . . since I cannot find authentic names by which to call them, because none exists, I name them by metaphorical terms—the first, austere, the second polished, the third well-blended. I have no idea how to describe the way in which the third is produced—“my mind is too divided to utter truth,” [apparently quoting a—terrific—fragment by Pindar]. I cannot say whether it is formed by removing the two extremes or by combining them, for it is not easy to find a clear solution to the problem. So perhaps it may be better to say that it is by the relaxation and intensification of these extremes that the very many varieties of median forms arise. . . .
      The special character of the austere style of composition is this: it requires that the words shall stand firmly on their own feet and occupy strong positions; and that the parts of sentence shall be at considerable distances from one another, separated by perceptible intervals. It does not mind admitting harsh and dissonant collocations, like blocks of natural stone laid together in building, with their sides not cut square or polished smooth, but remaining unworked and rough-hewn. It has a general liking for expansion by means of long words which extend over a wide space, because restriction to short syllables is repugnant to it, except when necessity sometimes compels.
      In respect of words, then, these are the effects which it strives to achieve and the principles to which it adheres. In its clauses it both pursues the same policy with regard to words, and cultivates dignified and impressive rhythms, and aims to make its clauses not parallel in structure or sound, nor slaves to rigid sequence, but noble, conspicuous and free. . . . As to periods, it does not, for the most part, even attempt to compose them as self-contained units in which the sense of each is complete: and if it drifts into this accidentally, it aims to emphasize its own unstudied and simple character, neither using any additional words which contribute nothing to the sense, merely in order to complete the period, nor taking special care that the rhythmic movement should have a certain show or polished character; and certainly not measuring their length so that it is just sufficient for the speaker’s breath, nor paying attention to any other such matter. This style of composition has these further characteristics: it is flexible in its use of cases, uses a variety of figures and few connectives, lacks articles, and often neglects grammatical sequence. It is not at all florid, but magnanimous, outspoken, unadorned: its beauty consists in its patina of antiquity.
Comme on disait il y a des décennies: dig it!

Of Note

Out of Simon Pettet’s Hearth (Talisman House, 2008), a collect’d—see Ralph Hawkins’s excellent notice of it here:
A Hyla

(after Henry David Thoreau)

ah! then, as I was rising,
’long this crowning road,
just beyond the big oil drums,

there leaked into my open ear
from some far pool,
the faint peep of a hyla,

one little hyla somewhere in the fens,
sexually-aroused by the fresh genial season,

and not about to be left behind!

sweet little package, it

crawls up, on bank or bush,
(or leafy stem),
squats, inelegant, on a dry leaf,
takes out a little “flute-like thing”

and bravely essays a note,
or more, “which scarce renders the vernal air”,

fulfilling the avian code, it
does no violence to the zephyr,

but yet, painlessly, breaks through all obstacles,

tall poplars in the lower fields,
thick-planted sap-heavy maples,

and far over the downs,
and onto the backs of the dumb sheep grazing
on tufted grass

and straight into the ear
of yours truly,
the listening patient.
The Hylidae, the tree frogs. Some of the pertinent lines out of Thoreau’s Journal (March 21, 1853): “Ah! then, as I was rising this crowning road, just beyond the old lime-kiln, there leaked into my open ear the faint peep of a hyla from some far pool. One little hyla somewhere in the fens, aroused by the genial season, crawls up the bank or a bush, squats on a dry leaf, and essays a note or two, which scarcely rends the air, does no violence to the zephyr, but yet breaks through all obstacles, thick-planted maples, and far over the downs to the ear of the listening naturalist, who will never see that piper in this world,—nor even the next, it may be,—as it were the first faint cry of the new-born year, notwithstanding the notes of birds. Where so long I have heard only the brattling and moaning of the wind, what means this tenser, far-piercing sound? All nature rejoices with one joy. If the hyla has revived again, may not I?” (One sees, immediately, in the skint severity of Pettet’s version, a cottoning to the Poundian adages: “Direct treatment of the ‘thing’, whether subjective or objective” and “To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.”) Keener put here in an untitled piece:

Some call
the sound post
“the soul”
of the violin

because its exact
on table and back

and the point at which it’s palced
(in relation to the foot of the bridge)
means so much.


white horse hairs
for the bow.

The best wood is
Brazilian lance wood
but these days that’s hard to get.
Pinpoint precision balancing against the taut mysteriousness of the laconic.

Simon Pettet
(Photograph by Jon Bidwell)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Silliman’s France

Felix the Cat, Philadelphia


Between buttery smear’d dandelion
skin and the smell
of hacienda cooking fat,
I read how Southern
girls dabbed themselves with
self-bottled urine, lavender-
scent’d, for whiter skin.
Supernatural life atrophies without
a durable paucity of
patchy innuendo, seminally wrought.
If everything is self-
evident and unencumber’d, ample
divinity a newsworthy cadaver,
the info-spiel rubbed
up like a brassy
spigot, or an infinitorium
spewing the hot lather
of a mash continuum:
everything is memorandum. Or,
the unreachable itch presides,
mark’d by the impertinence
of any ploy that
begs the universal, plying
its companionship to none.
The girls go salty,
night spills its honey-
comb tripe, its compartmentalized
barrage of fiery lights,
shill rhapsodies, niño, shill.
Niño, every thing dies.
no thing is new.

Trying a new thing: that of noting what crosses the transom, pointing to worthy things (with minimal comment). Result of an impasse: the setting apart of too many books with the intent of lengthier commentary, the resultant rut of morosity and blockage (triggering sass and tomfoolery) at the prospect of ever dutifully (meaning adequately) scaling the surrounding walls of the books piled hereabouts. A regular thing whilst I “catch up,” possibly sliding off to occasional (depending what comes along the turnpike). Intending, nevertheless, to continue, too, the ruggeder sort of reviewing (I love that lingo: one senses the choir readying itself—“O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, / Has a wondrous attraction for me.” One learns that George Bennard wrote that in Albion, Michigan, and that it or Pokagon, Michigan, Popularized by Billy Sunday campaigner Homer Rodeheaver who bought the rights to the hymn for $500 . . .)

Here’s a little mystery. In Ron Silliman’s “The Chinese Notebook” (in The Age of Huts (compleat)), one reads:
117.     Paris is in France. Also, Paris has five letters. So does France. But so do Ghana, China, Spain. How should I answer “Why is Paris Paris?”
Part of Silliman’s wholly Wittgenstein-inflect’d investigation of the “specific form of behavior” that is poetry—which ranges wildly through various language games, some rather sophomoric (“6.     I wrote this sentence with a ballpoint pen. If I had used another, would it have been a different sentence.”), some rousing curiosity (“203.     The formal considerations of indeterminacy are too few for interest to extend very far, even when posed in other terms—“organic,” etc. But organic form is strict, say, 1:1:2:3:5:8:13:21. . . . What is the justification for strict form (Xenakis’ music, for example) which cannot be perceived? Is there an aesthetic defense for the hidden?”) For all the considerations of meaning and variance and referential effect and context, though, nowhere else does Silliman (apparently) make an “error.” (The truth is: six-letter’d France “doesn’t.”) I see no evidence anybody’s noted the fault. Silliman is “good with” counting—he counts things constantly. How explain the gaffe? Simple carelessness of the imprecise or Silliman’s equivalent to “a flaw in the carpet”—the nod of the imperfect human in the eyes of a perfect God? Is the mention of a Williams mistake a clue?
146.     On page 282 of Imaginations, Williams writes “This is the alphabet,” presents the typewriter keyboard, except that where the s should be there appears a second e. Whether this was “in error” or not, it tells us everything about the perception of language.
“Everything”? (I am remind’d of contemporary games of shuffled letter-order’s no-effect on perception—“the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.”) (Or Charles Bernstein’s typo-ga-ga “A Defence of Poetry”: “My problem with deploying a term liek / nonelen / in these cases is acutually similar to / your / cirtique of the term ideopigical / unamlsing as a too-broad unanuajce / interprestive proacdeure.”) Less “everything” than a sort of one-note Johnny brouhaha stall’d out at a level of language “way” prior (Silliman begins “The Chinese Notebook” with “Wayward, we weigh words”—execrable pun and limitation) to where it becomes completely rousing: at the moment it transports.

Of Note

Out of the newest issue of Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff’s New American Writing (#27), Rachel Loden channeling César Vallejo’s “Piedra Negra Sobre una Piedre Blanca”:
Black Sun on a White Sun

I will die in Brooklyn in a shitstorm
on a day that staggers like a memory.
I will die in Brooklyn—don’t fuck with me—
maybe on a Tuesday, like today, in February.

Call it Tuesday, then, because today, Tuesday,
even my humeri are on bass ackwards
and never like today have I turned back
against the freeway signs, to see myself alone.

Rachel Edelson is dead, least-favored daughter,
I killed her, and she did nothing to me;
I beat her once with a cane and twice

with a walker; testimonies from
the Tuesdays and the backward bones,
the batshit loneliness, the brakes, the roads. . . .
Brilliant that “don’t fuck with me” for Vallejo’s y no me corro and the palatal hard c “cane” interjecting against the fricatives in “once” and “twice” mimicking the shape of the sound pattern in le daban duro con un palo y duro. The other stunner: Martin Corless-Smith channeling “plus Claude Debussy que Stéphane Mallarmé” (by my lights, the piece seemingly succumbs to a languor barely grasp’d), though I think Mallarmé’s “Everything in the world exists in order to end up in a book” lurks herein, too:
The Evening of a Faun

Memories of an unread book.

Come join me more quietly. My days of chasing are past.

For the evening we will accept what we find—in the way of music and repast.

Some unearthed truffles, mountain garlic and a fowl or two.

Turn away from the breeze for shelter—and the playing of pipes.

A little preparation and reparation, and the earth nest is readied—the stubborn root knot patted with mud—the leaves piled readily.

The music is from our childhood and before. A nameless tune we learned before memory.

There might come dancers. And if they do we must let them be. It they do not we must watch the trees dance—and obey the still evening ourselves.

My nature has changed. My companions a few and I have little now to say to them.

That which they know they will recognize—that with they do not they will not. I need not offer the world to my fellow fauns.

The sound of water is our companion heart. It rains a little but our beards are greased.

Everything is an omen for everything will happen.

Martin Corless-Smith

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wakka Wakka



The pineally-hued whites
of the Aegean, soul-
raking, micro-tenant’d—stain’d
by the lost blues
of the Homerids, that
bankrupt society of variance-
chasers, epigones and punks.
I draw lots, deliberately
blank. The high stony
meadow holds one horse,
one swallowtail, one swooping
pugnacious yellow-throat’d bee-
eater. The ouï-dire
sea hides the spiny
urchins, Echinoidea, les oursins,
the sea with its
unhesitant vulgar yes, yes.
The skeptical sky reassembles
the invert’d black anvils
of its havoc, hepped-
up Hephaestus, bulge of
the forge. I am
caught like a catamaran
skimming between opposing heavens,
the shorn generatrix of
one inadequate word quivering
against the next, jelly
in a tank, dithering
a calligraphy of nay-
saying, squeamish and book’d.

Nobody reads poetry. One jumps into the ape-house, pounds a pneumatic rhythm out, scoots up the nearby “tree.” C’est comme ça, la poésie—bête et soupçonneuse. Insert symbol. Sense of hitting a wall: accrue’d antagonism with oneself resulting in both “obstinacy of aesthetic comportment” (Adorno) and plunging abject-status. I drool in a corner. I scratch my privates publicly. Loss of criteria and fear of the open door. Lessening of social commitment, ha ha ha, ha. Books? I put books against my face to block out the sun. Ah, ah, aberrancy, it disfigures the rollicking tongue.

So, grumpy with doubts, one reads of Olson’s stickler, warring against Eliot’s “pseudoparticularity” (that, a word of Ralph Maud’s, in What Does Not Change: The Significance of Charles Olson’s “The Kingfishers”): “Particularism has to fought for, anew.” Olson insisting (“Human Universe”) “that a thing, any thing, impinges on us by a more important fact, its self-existence—the very character of it which calls our attention to it, which wants us to know more about it, its particularity. This is what we are confronted by, not the thing’s ‘class.’” Olson’s worrying Eliot’s “The Dry Salvages”—the lines “Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory, / Pray for all those who are in ships”—he sends “Pound a picture postcard of the statue of the Lady of Good Voyage on top of the Portuguese Church” in Gloucester, with the line: “Here is my Lady that Possum stole.” Writing = turf war. Three years later he’s niggling (to Creeley, a 1950 letter) the same: Eliot’s “use of my, my madonna, buono viaggi, Gloucester, and how he misuses it, is riding, is generalizer”—and proceeds with the Maximus Poems:
                              (o my lady of good voyage
                              in whose arms, whose left arm rests
no boy but a carefully carved wood, a painted face, a schooner!
So: blithering “generalizing humanism,” imprecise vaguenesses, the bull-dozed flat lack of the point’d particular. (An argument for the particularity not of things, but of words—arguably, a formally empty particularity buoy’d up only by sheer self-attending materiality (“Look at me!”)—occurs to me, is that where “we” be today, constructing with our doodads and wit the vessels of our distraction-unto-death inability to cotton to anything beyond the flibbertigibbets of the sign?)

Pound, in Angoulême with its “niggly” cathedral (in Richard Sieburth’s A Walking Tour in Southern France: Ezra Pound among the Troubadours) complaining about “a tendency to germanize”—“realist” particularity rampant in the nineteenth-century novel:
Not everything is interesting or rather not everything is interesting enough to be written into novels, which are at all but the best a dilution of life. It is excellent doubtless for future sociologists that certain diagnoses of certain strata be recorded, but it is work for encyclopedists or else it isn’t . . .
      The use of dogma, generalities, inexact “ideas” had led to such a general ignorance that the impressionistic or realistic method was the only escape from it. But now we are come upon the obverse, a tendency to germanize which is philology or novels or what you will,—a failure in synthesis, a failure to recognise what is a type, a failure to see where description of a thing is worth while either because it is normal or because extreme.
A jumble, Pound’s notes. I like, though, to see the two ruses—particularity and its lack—opposed.

Periodically today I am going to try to get a particularly rippled slice of bacon to lie flat enough in the brainpan to cook—Olson’s: “the narrative that gets started begins to be the story that will yield from the object a raison that causes us in the first place to give our attention to it.” (“Under the Mushroom,” Muthologos I, quoted by Maud.)

Of Note

I go many places, wakka

                        I go many places, wakka
                    wakka wakka, unscrew
                many faces, wakka wakka
            wakka, tears for the coffin’s
        delivery to barracks, tea-
    cher thrown out the win-
dow, out of state, her son’s

music calms our space, more
    feed, more pain, more growth.
        A single non-blip of financial
            scratch, unrecognizable her
                digitized face, love in a
                    firefly’s debauched wing
                        A NY Post of the jowl.

                        I’m glad for waste, its
                    ascension, its emotional arc
                into the prose of governance . . .

Opening lines of “I go many places, wakka,” out of Anselm Berrigan’s To Hell With Sleep (Letter Machine Editions, 2009). Longing to think that that “wakka wakka wakka” erupt’d as pure non-negotiable sound—childish lingual “noise” beyond writing. I think, though, it’s coming out of Muppet Fozzie the Bear, something of a fail’d comedian. Or Pacman.

[Correct’d by a reader who points to Nigerian singer Fela Kuti’s “Coffin for Head of State” as the source of the opening lines of “I go many places, wakka.” Thank you.]

Anselm Berrigan, 1999
(Photograph by John Tranter)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chicken Scratch

“A Rooster Named Antonin”


‘Equal, attuneable, vaulty, voluminous’—that’s
Hopkins, nigh-pinion’d by sound.
That need to reject everything,
to unclutter oneself and sway
sapling-naked under the limpid
taunt of blue sky, staked
out for a cleansing seizure
of light unending, and post-
dedicatory boundlessness, ventus dissipat omnem
meum laborem,
I love that.
To study not the mock
hieroglyphics of guck’d-up worldly
sapience and its naught-attunements,
to inhabit not the mesmer-
chains of duty, rote-parlance
lots, mouth at the common
spigot, ally to the meagre
and mad. All my impatient
works toss’d off, comfort-repuls’d,
and I, big with yearning,
tow’d empty-head’d, gash vermilion’d
forth by sharp-talon’d angels
into a subtler smeary constituency.

“Mr. Latta’s Sunday Morning Service,” one supposes. “Polyphiloprogenitive,” er, no. Mostly scuttling like a marmot between books, restless, napping in broad daylight. Reading some of the stories in Aleksandar Hemon’s new Love and Obstacles, copping delights like “. . . her legs crossed, the hem of her skirt curved over the northern hemishpere of her knee.” (How jumps of “scale” determine metaphorical success?) Or the onslaught of tiny stories:
He had run a cigarette-selling business in high school, and had regularly had sex with his geography teacher. He had hitchhiked across America: in Oklahoma, he drank with Indians who fed him mushrooms that took him to where their spirits lived—the spirits had big asses with two holes, which smelled equally of shit; in Idaho, he lived in a cave with a guy who watched the sky all day long, waiting for a fleet of black helicopters to descend upon them; he smuggled cattle from Mexico into Texas, cars from Texas to Mexico. Then he was in the Army; avoiding rough deployment by applying onion to his dick so as to fake an infection, whoring around in Germany, cutting up a Montenegrin pimp in a disco.
Or (the novelist’s “petulant esteem’d condescension”—if such a thing exists, I hardly know what I say, like, ninety percent of the my life—towards poetry—or maybe it’s simply “smarm”):
I can confess, now that I’ve long since stopped writing poetry, that I never really understood what I wrote. I didn’t know what my poems were about, but I believed in them. I liked their titles (“Peter Pan and the Lesbians,” “Love and Obstacles,” et cetera), and I felt that they attained a realm of human innocence and experience that was unknowable, even by me. I delayed showing them to anyone else; I was waiting for readers to evolve, I suppose, to the point where they could grasp the vast spaces of my ego.
All guffaw’d out, I’d turn to Detlev Claussen’s Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius, for manageable snips of Adorno array’d in a context that seems to oscillate wildly, throwing its smallish repetitions up into varying kinds of relief (in that sense, it resembles Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, though perhaps it’s simply that any “approach” on my part to Adorno makes me feign a childlike feverishness . . .) Isn’t it here, in Adorno’s insistence an unbound’d, polylingual language, that Hemon’s gentle “smarm” regarding knowing “what my poems were about” is put to the romp? Adorno makes a defense of (particularly) foreign words—“to release their explosive fore: not to deny what is foreign in them but to use it” (which recalls a burgeoning tenet of translation theory, a “keeping strange” that I connect with Pierre Joris’s reworkings of Celan) in “On the Use of Foreign Words” and in “Words from Abroad” seems to want to push to the inconsistence and lingual “noise” the “childlike,” demanding “something of the utopia of language, a language without earth, without subjection to the spell of historical existence, a utopia that lives on unawares in the childlike use of language.” That perennial longing mid-writing for a pure tolerable lapse / plunge into gutturals and grunts, yé-yé hiccup-squeals and yelps, Artaud-like oinking, ivory-tusk’d Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s elephant-trumpeting, Al Green’s lynch-strangulating, fork-hair’d Nina Hagen. That, and to fall in a heap, wetting oneself and glossalalic. That point of writing moving beyond writing. And a wholly different Sunday morning service.

Antonin Artaud, 1896-1948
(Photograph by Man Ray)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Some Kingfishers

Some Trees


The beery combo’s down
to scraps of standards
interrupt’d by lengthy kluge-
rife improv-mayhem, replete
with guffaws. Routine chutzpah
of the smash’d. I,
who am writing a
letter to Lou, welcome
the green expanding sun
of the dying Old
World, saying a no
made compliant by alcohol,
a churl-emphatic no
to a regimen of
pinch’d-off dry sentiment
and errand-running. I
wonder how to say
church key in French.
Or, the band’s exchanged
porkpies for raincoats, shiny
yellow slickers and galoshes,
and is ripping through
a cover of “Yé-
yé, nous aimons le
the Senegalese drummer
looking like a million
dollars, the biggest boat
in the cove. Apollinaire,
an enormous sausage of
a guy, gappy-tooth’d,
loop’d in a filthy
turban-like thing, is
explaining the meaning of
Boches, with the usual
feints and brusqueries of
a pugilist. O my
indefatigable American youth, I
am fond of muttering.

Reading Charles Wright’s Sestets (FSG, 2009). Out of a (likely) intentionally utilitarian (“unpoetic”) title, “Walking Beside the Diversion Ditch Lake,” he arrives at Gerard Manley Hopkins’s kingfisher. Wright:
I love to make the kingfishers fly
                                                              from their bony perches
Above the lake, six or seven, one after the next,
Circling the water and chattering back,
                                                                          as I walk along.

Can the fish hear them?
Is their cry like organ chording,
                                                            leading to one vast ultimate stop?
Who was it who first said, “The kingfisher falls through fire”?
The Hopkins:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Which, that doing of “one thing and the same,” tosses one up against the heap that is Charles Olson. “The Kingfishers” with its summary beginning: “What does not change / is the will to change” and its west-flying kingfisher juxtaposed / interspliced against Mao’s sun-upcoming in the east insistence:
la lumiere”
                    but the kingfisher
de l’aurore”
                    but the kingfisher flew west
est devant nous!
                    he got the color of his breast
                    from the heat of the setting sun!
(I see I am wading out too deep for a morning’s few choppy laps—old American-adapt’d trudgen stroke, likely to drown in the waters of Diversion Ditch Lake . . .) I note that Hopkins is lacking in the index to Ralph Maud’s What Does Not Change: The Significance of Charles Olson’s “The Kingfishers” and a ham-finger’d sprint through Guy Davenport’s “Scholia and Conjectures for ‘The Kingfishers’” (in The Geography of the Imagination) dislodges no Hopkins either. Why it “should”—I don’t know. Why not add lines out of Amy Clampitt’s “The Kingfisher, just to work oneself up into a terror of cross-niggling referentials?
                    . . . how many liaisons gone down
screaming in a stroll beside the ruined nunnery;
a kingfisher’s burnished plunge, the color
of felicity afire, came glancing like an arrow
through landscapes of untended memory: ardor
illuminating with its terrifying currency
now no mere glimpse, no porthole vista
but, down on down, the uninhabitable sorrow.
As blackjack croupiers like to say, “Hopkins add’d to the Jack, no help.” (I do love the string of “nunnery,” “memory,” “currency.”) (I ought to add: the kingfisher of Eastern North America, the Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) isn’t fiery in the least: a slate-blue back’d, white collar’d, mostly white breast’d, with two flank-smudges of dull-penny copper, or rust, barely meeting in the center of its breast. And a raspy voice.) There is, too, serendipity weighing in (It’s all Puthwuth’s fault, that Orpheus—he mention’d the Adamson) by depositing a copy of Robert Adamson’s The Kingfisher’s Soul (Bloodaxe, 2009) within my reach.) Here, the title poem (it also appears in Flood Editions’s 2006 The Goldfinches of Baghdad), dedicated to Juno Gemes:
A wave hits the shoreline of broken boulders,
explodes, fans into fine spray, a fluid wing
then drops back onto the tide: A spume
of arterial blood. Our eyes can be gulled by what
the brain takes in—or spirits take flight
each time we catch sight out—feathers of smoke
dissolve in air as we glide towards clarity.

In the old days I used to think art
that was purely imagined could fly higher
than anything real. Now I feel a small fluttering
bird in my own pulse, a connection to sky.
Back then a part of me was only half alive:
your breath blew a thicket of smoke from my eyes
and brought that half to life. There’s no

evidence, nothing tangible, and no philosopher
of blood considering possibilities,
weighing up feathers, or souls. One day
some evidence could spring from shadows
as my body did in rejecting the delicious poisons,
the lure of dark song. You came with a wind
in your gaze, flinging away trouble’s screw,

laughing at the King of Hell’s weird command;
you created birthdays and the cheekbones
of family—I was up, gliding through life
and my fabrications, thought’s soft cradle.
I scoured memory’s tricks from my own memory,
its shots and score cards, those ambiguous lyrics—
Clear bird song was not human-song, hearing became

nets and shadowy vibrations, the purring
air, full of whispers and lies. I felt blank pages,
indentations created by images, getting by
with the shapes I made from crafted habits.
You taught me how to weigh the harvest of light.
There was bright innocence in your spelling,
I learned to read again through wounded eyes.

Wispy spiders of withdrawal sparked with static
electricity across skin, tiny veins, a tracery of
coppery wires, conducting pain to nerve
patterns: all lightweights, to your blood’s iron.
You brought along new light to live in
as well as read with—before you came, whenever
I caught a glimpse of my own blood, it seemed

a waterfall of bright cells as it bled away.
Clouds of euphony, created by its loss, became
holes in thinking, pretend escape hatches. You’re now
a rush, wings through the channels of my coronary
arteries. We slept together when you conjured
a bed in your Paddington tree-house: barbless hours,
peace appeared and said: Soon, the future awaits you.

I stepped into the day, by following your gaze.
Which’s got its Hopkins moments (“Our eyes can be gulled by what / the brain takes in—or spirits take flight / each time we catch sight out”) and no kingfisher. As Wright says—similarly juggling opposites, think, too, of Hopkins’s “swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle dim”—in “Time Is a Graceless Enemy, but Purls as It Comes and Goes”: “I’m winding down. The daylight is winding down. / Only the night is wound up tight, / And ticking with unpaused breath. / Sweet night, sweet steady, reliable, uncomplicated night.”

Belted Kingfisher

John Ruskin, “Kingfisher,” c. 1870-1

Thursday, July 16, 2009


“L’Écume des jours”


Verandah, cheroot, dithyramb, toss—
particulars of the start-
up set, rolling defectives
savvy’d out of thousands
by a generality that
dithers and paws, incontinently
jawing. Davy, Davy, Davy,
oh. With untrammel’d consequence
and ‘handkerchief of prog,’
(Congreve) oughtn’t we sovereignly
make off to Thule’s
bluish weather, bang a
big gong against mere
formal commandeering? The sky
flings back its aught-
cloudy whiteness and repose.
The world is out
there beyond its own
magnificent discords, stretching out
across sun-stain’d verdants
of lawn, un bijou
trumpeting the pickle
it finds itself in.
The fickle spirit prevails
only in the furious
mutuality of its pitch:
a wily incremental acuteness
against rank soldiery bluster
and relentless dull possessives.
My word. My my.
The light takes aim
at a chemise. Its
tautly-deliver’d drapeau screens
off to provide: rotifers
cartwheeling through pond-scum,
a Sikh at six
a.m. raiding the mulberry
tree, a fourteen-year-
old’s vaunt’d dexterity stymied
by a gut-ache,
tin saucer of moon
shining out of sky-
lather, its stop’d down
radiance unmooring the breath.

Finish’d The Skating Rink. A mystery how Bolaño cleaves to such a slender line between the fictional and not, so that all seems imaginary. One reads of the present made of “the supreme skating book, Saint Lydwina or the Subtlety of Ice, by Henri Lefebvre, in French, published by Luna Park in Brussels” and tries to untangle what’s “real” there, and nearly all of it appears plausible, existent. One easily learns of Saint Lidwina of Schiedam, in Holland, a Dutch saint who fell and broke a rib whilst ice-skating as a teenager. Subsequently, paralyzed except for one hand, the left, she suffer’d pieces of her body falling off, and continual bleeding out of mouth, nose, and ears. Some say her parents collect’d (and kept in a vase) the parts of Lidwina, and that these exuded a sweet odor. (Wild to see how the various details get dispersed, contort’d, amalgamated. Bolaño’s character Caridad is report’d to bleed spontaneously out of the nose, and barely eats.) (Bolaño: “There’s a sweet, rotting smell on the beach, as if inside one of the shacks, closed to the public until next summer, the dead body of a man or a dog had been left among boxes smeared with melted ice cream.” A remark that is deposit’d right “next” to a scene wherein several “elderly Dutch tourists” find themselves “heartily amused” by witnessing the somewhat cartoonish restaurant-ejection of The Rookie, a beggar, “A waiter picked him up by his collar and belt and threw him out, just like in the movies. The Rookie offered no resistance; pathetically compliant, he fell in a heap.”) (I recall admiring stray copies of the Brussels-based art magazine Luna Park in the mid-’seventies in France; “Henri Lefebvre” might send one off on a manhunt in a thrilling number of directions, the most obvious one ending up with the French sociologist and philosopher, author of the 1947 Critique of Everyday Life. “The more needs a human being has, the more he exists,” says Lefebvre, in savage taunt of humankind’s full-tilt evolution into a seemingly purely consumerist beast. As such, Bolaño’s sly citation, amidst the have-nothings of the campground, is both funny and complicated. Part of Bolaño’s appeal is how he sides invariably with the dispossess’d. (When Remo Morán, after discovering the murder’d ex-opera-singer, finds Gasparín and Caridad asleep in the ruin’d Palacio Benvingut, “wrapped up in ragged tartan rugs,” he reports: “Behind them, on the wall, above the single, magnificent widow, was the following inscription : CORAJE, CANEJO (‘Courage, damn it’).”) (One is remind’d, by Bolaño’s Saint Lydwina or the Subtlety of Ice invention, of some of the references in the works of Javier Marías, particularly that of the King of Redonda in All Souls and the dazzling complications of Marías’s “false novel,” Dark Back of Time.

Out of the Goncourt Journal: “A book is never a masterpiece; it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man.” And Adorno’s crabbing about Goethe (and the biographical) in Aesthetic Theory: “The concept of genius becomes the potential enemy of artworks; with a sidelong glance at Goethe, the person back of the work is purported to be more essential than the artworks themselves. In the concept of genius the idea of creation is transferred with idealistic hubris from the transcendental to the empirical subject, to the productive artist. This suits crude bourgeois consciousness as much because it implies a work ethic that glorifies pure human creativity regardless of its aim as because the viewer is relieved of taking any trouble with the object itself: The viewer is supposed to be satisfied with the personality—essentially a kitsch biography—of the artist. Those who produce important artworks are not demigods but fallible, often neurotic and damaged, individuals. An aesthetic mentality, however, that wholly swept away the idea of genius would degenerate into a desolate, pedantic arts-and-crafts mentality devoted to tracing out stencils. The element of truth in the concept of genius is to be sought in the object, in what is open, not in the repetition of the imprisoned.” (Rodney Livingstone, translating Detlev Claussen’s biography of Adorno, revises that final phrase to read: “not confined by repetition.”) Question: are we, forty years after Adorno’s death, stuck in that “pedantic arts-and-crafts mentality,” “tracing out stencils”?

Odd to see Ron Silliman’s completely ga-ga (“most exquisitely constructed prose I’ve ever read—more lush than Proust”) reading of Tony Lopez’s Darwin. Judging by the lines Silliman quotes (after the usual malarkey of counting this and that—“eight of the poems take up four pages, while two take up three”—statistical buncombe), what is easily and immediately evident about the work is how much it owes to Silliman’s own (repetitious, die cut, scrapbooking) work of the last thirty or so years. So it seems marvelously self-serving to hoopla a clearly derivative chapbook with breathless talk of “my admittedly self-indulgent process of reading & rereading every paragraph over many times before heading on to the next one” or to point “up” Darwin’s “only serious limitation: it’s far too short.” The imply’d solution to the dilemma (there, like most of Silliman’s “subtle” hints, like a hammer blow to the head): for a “long, maybe even longer, than In Search of Lost Time” experience (“Golly, Mr. Silliman, that is long”), for “a text of infinite richness, endless verbal & social wealth,” turn to The Alphabet.

Theodor Adorno, 1903-1969